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A striking steel steed! Check out the Surly Straggler gravel bike

Balancing on-road efficiency and off-road ruggedness, this steel 'rough' road bike is hard to beat for versatility

The steel Surly Straggler is a popular choice having been a fixture on the all-rounder/gravel scene for years and it's still going strong - in more ways than one. It's considered a 'rough' road bike designed to be versatile and capable whatever the terrain.

2021 Surly Straggler complete bike.jpeg

Minnesota-based, Surly, describes the Straggler as “a bikepacking-inspired road/gravel bike mostly at home on pavement but ready for trail duty when called”. ​ It's earned its place on the Surly roster for several years now, and there’s no sign of it disappearing any time soon.

“Straggler is tuned for cross-over exploration on a wide variety of terrain conditions,” says Surly. “It’s a day-tripper and a weekender. It’s a ‘rough road’ road bike, a cyclocross bike with no pretence about racing, a utilitarian townie, a light-duty touring bike and an all-weather commuter. It’s a steel gravel bicycle that thrives on the road.”

2023 Surly Straggler

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The Straggler makes no claims of being a race bike and is instead for those who value a comfortable ride with a lot of adaptability. It's less skittish than a lightweight race-bred cyclocross bike when you hit the trails and with a fast-rolling set of touring tyres, it'll compete with lots of traditional touring bikes. 

It has a rock solid character in terms of both handling and durability. It’s true that the Straggler feels a bit of a lump at times, especially compared with skinny road bikes, but there are also times when its steamroller personality is welcome.

2021 Surly Straggler fork.jpeg

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When we reviewed the Straggler back in early 2014 - yes it really has been around a while! - the late, great Steve Worland said, “Surly’s Straggler is a sturdily built and eminently adaptable steel all-rounder. It boasts a handful of interesting design touches, an unusual amount of tyre room, plentiful luggage rack mounts and a very comfy ride. It has a strong bias towards rough roads and trail use, but weight-weenies should look away now.”

Oh yeah, at 11.9kg (over 26lb), that complete bike was not lightweight – but that’s not the point.

The Straggler is really a reimagined version of one of Surly’s most popular all-rounder bikes, the Cross-Check – another model that’s still available, but features disc brakes rather than the Cross-Check cantilevers. 

2021 Surly Straggler frame decal.jpeg

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The 4130 chromoly steel tubes are cleanly TIG-welded, the main triangle is double-butted, and the chunky 4130 chromoly fork has a lugged crown and dropouts with curved butted blades fitted with dual rack eyelets.

The frame shape is unusual – even distinctive – with the top tube sloping down slightly from the seat tube to the head tube. That head tube in turn extends about 2cm above the top tube. The 30mm stack of washers on the steerer gives you an option of a very high or very low handlebar position and good standover clearance.

2023 Surly Straggler tyre clearance

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The rear dropouts are 135mm wide (mountain bike standard) and have screw adjusters so you can use a single speed or hub geared wheel, or simply slide the wheel back for extra clearance around big tyres.

Frame fittings include threaded bosses, doubled up on the fork dropouts, for full mudguards and every common type of front and rear pannier rack plus two sets of bottle cage bosses, making it more than capable for commuting or touring purposes. Surly hasn’t left anything to chance here.

The Straggler isn’t particularly fast on the climbs but it’s a confident descender, especially when you’re not sure what type of surface is going to come your way.

2023 Surly Straggler

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The Surly Stagger is available in two colours - chlorine dream and gloss black, as a frameset for 700C and 650B wheels, priced at £750. 

It has frame clearance for up to 42mm tyres without fenders and 41mm tyres with fenders, for both of the framesets. 

A complete build with SRAM Rival 1x11 groupset, TRP Spyre disc brakes and Halo Vapour GXC wheels with Surly Knard tyres costs £1750, or you can create something completely custom. 

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Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.

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